A decade since Slipknot released its first major record and went on its masked crusade to shock the world, the scariest thing about the group might be how popular it remains. The nine-member Iowa metal band landed its first No. 1 record in 2008, and it's kicking off another U.S. arena tour tonight at Xcel Energy Center.
There's plenty of reason for Slipknot to talk about the present, in other words, but it's also hard to resist remembering the good old glory/gory days -- as standup percussionist, backup vocalist and virtual ringleader Shawn Crahan did in an interview from Des Moines last week.
"I had blood pouring out of the eye sockets of my mask," Crahan (aka Clown, aka #6) recalled of a 1999 incident on the first Ozzfest tour, the one that introduced Slipknot to the world with an onslaught of noise, pure pandemonium and, yes, real blood. No wonder it's been so hard for fans to forget them ever since.
"I smacked my head into the base of a microphone stand. It cut my eye bad, and you could see my skull. I fractured my skull pretty bad and had to have stitches, and then I had a concussion for the rest of the tour. I actually thought someone shot me, the way it felt. I was swallowing all this blood."
Talking to the guys in Slipknot is always surprisingly amusing, and not because of their always ultra-serious, Spinal Tap-ian explanations of what their masks mean to them.
"It's our way of becoming more intimate with the music. It's a way for us to become unconscious of who we are," lead vocalist Corey Taylor said in 2002.
Last week, Crahan threw out this diatribe: "No one's going to understand [the masks] until we've been at it for 25 years and are up for the Hall of Fame or something like that. You'll be able to look back on the masks and see the development of the band. I've changed a lot over the course of Slipknot, and you can see that in the masks: the pain, the growth. And being the old dog in the band, I've made the most extreme mask for myself -- the most painful, dreaded thing, which makes it harder for me to deliver onstage."
No, what's really entertaining about a one-on-one with the Slipknot guys is that -- with their masks off and stitches taken out, anyway -- they sound like regular, everyday, blue-collar, hard-working, MGD-swilling Midwestern dudes and not freaks from a horror flick.
Crahan, who spent part of his childhood in Burnsville, is even a happily married father of four. He used to run a bar before his parents gave him money to get Slipknot off the ground (can you imagine hitting up Mom and Dad for that?).
"I started the band when I was 26 and got them signed when I was 29," he recalled. "I'd been married several years before that. There was a lot more struggle then. This band is art, and it's fun, but it's also my job, and I'm very honored that we've had the kind of success we've had so I can pay the bills now."
Aside from a few strays here and there, Slipknot's members have all remained in and around Des Moines throughout their successful run. Before their current album, though -- the cheerily titled "All Hope Is Gone" -- they had never recorded one of their major albums in Iowa. Yes, even the 2001 sophomore album titled "Iowa" was made in Los Angeles.
The idea of recording at home came up during the making of the group's last record, 2004's "Vol. 3: Subliminal Verses."
"We were recording with Rick Rubin at his mansion in Los Angeles, where we'd wind up working in a living room and foyer or whatever," Crahan recalled. "It made no sense for me to leave my kids for a couple months and pay a mortgage at home and then take money from the record label to rent an apartment in Los Angeles -- and then wind up recording in a living room, anyway."
Before making "All Hope Is Gone," the band went on an extended hiatus that lasted around three years. In that time, Taylor and guitarist Jim Root issued another album by their more conventional hard-rock band, Stone Sour; drummer Joey Jordison toured with Korn, and Crahan directed the Slipknot documentary/concert DVD, "Voliminal: Inside the Nine."
The time off apparently served the band well.
"A lot of people probably wish we had seven records instead," Crahan said, "but if you look at a lot of bands that came out at the same time we did, they might have seven records, but half of them suck. Most of the bands that started with us are on their way out.
"We take a little time off, we gear up, get bored, get crazy. We pay attention to ourselves and pay attention to society. We come up with new methods of madness, put it all together, take risks and put a record together."
The biggest risk taken on "All Hope Is Gone": Several songs, including the first single, "Psychosocial," feature bona-fide singing along with the usual guttural-growl delivery from Taylor. That's right, actual melody and harmonies, something Taylor showed he could do in Stone Sour (he plans to make a solo album following the current Slipknot run).
Mostly, though, "All Hope Is Gone" is still as thrashing, furious, brutal and harrowing as the Slipknot you've either grown to love or hate over the years.
The sameness apparently applies onstage, too. Even with his kids at home and his 40th birthday coming up this year, Crahan claimed that he and the rest of the band remain as unhinged and dangerous as they were on that first, bloodletting-filled Ozzfest tour.
"Being a little older now, I think the more I push it onstage, the better it is for me, my brain, my body," he said. "I really thrive off the pain of it. There's a lot of positive potential in it."
Apparently not all hope is gone then.
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658